Following an exclusive from The Sun, Goal claim West Ham are still considering the prospect of re-signing former midfield talisman Dimitri Payet, who left the east Londoners on rather acrimonious terms in January 2017 to return to former club Marseille.
It would represent a risky and controversial signing for the Hammers; Payet is now 31 years of age and recovering from an injury he suffered in last season’s Europa League final, but more crucially the manner in which he forced a mid-season exit has inevitably left something of a sour taste.
So, should West Ham pursue Payet’s services once again or focus their transfer attentions elsewhere this summer? Football FanCast look at the potential consequences of the France international returning to the London Stadium.
A key part of why Slaven Bilic failed to follow up his impressive debut season in east London with another thrilling campaign was the club’s chaotic recruitment strategy during summer 2016, which appeared to focus on getting recognised names through the door rather than addressing significant weaknesses in the first team.
Perhaps that’s because West Ham anticipated a lengthy Europa League campaign, which in practice failed to expand beyond the early qualifying rounds. But the consequence was an imbalanced squad filled with attacking options that proved impossible to get into the same starting XI – the likes of Michail Antonio, Sofiane Feghouli, Simone Zaza, Jonathan Calleri, Diafra Sakho, Enner Valencia, Andre Ayew, Manuel Lanzini and Payet himself.
Inevitably, Bilic didn’t quite work out his strongest team until much later in the season – just in time to spare the Hammers a genuine fight for Premier League survival.
And while Manuel Pellegrini places a huge emphasis on attacking football, he could end up facing a similar problem, with Andriy Yarmolenko already signing and a deal for Felipe Anderson in the pipeline. It begs the question of where Payet would actually fit into this West Ham side, and whether his arrival would disrupt the natural hierarchy of the squad. Sometimes, the ‘nice headache to have’ is actually just a headache – as painful as any other.
While West Ham fans will fully recognise what Payet can offer them on the pitch, his return won’t sit well with all supporters – especially considering the club are already spending some big money on alternatives in Yarmolenko and Anderson. The Frenchman won’t be greeted with open arms by everybody, and it shouldn’t be underestimated how detrimental any fractures amongst the fan base could be following last season.
After all, although this summer has felt like a step in the right direction, the majority of fans still feel disillusioned with the board and the path the club has taken since leaving Upton Park. Payet’s return – especially if he struggles to rekindle the same level of form from his first spell – could quickly become another stick to beat the board with, and the London Stadium has a real knack of becoming toxic when there are underlying tensions.
That’s played a part in West Ham’s last two seasons, both of which were spent looking nervously at the relegation zone, and almost resulted in a full-scale riot after the 3-0 defeat to Burnley in March. The chances of Payet alone causing that kind of reaction is minimal, but it nonetheless highlights the importance of West Ham entering next season with the fans and the club feeling united rather than divided.
Lanzini’s been ruled out until at least halfway through next season and whenever a player suffers a long-term injury during the summer, even more so upon the appointment of a new manager, there’s always a danger of a new signing taking their place in the starting XI, meaning there’s no obvious route back into it once they return to fitness.
And that could well be the case with the Argentine should Payet return this summer. Although the pair proved an incredibly effective partnership during the Marseille man’s first Hammers spell, they do play essentially in the same position and bring similar qualities to the team, so it could quickly become a case of either/or this time around.
That battle for a starting berth is inevitably stacked in Payet’s favour, because he’ll have a whole half season to integrate into the team and adapt to Pellegrini’s methods. In the long-term too, that could really cost the club financially; Payet’s resale value will be minimal, but if Lanzini recovers well from his injury there will be plenty of clubs interested in him next summer and the South American should bring in a handsome fee.
If he’s not getting in the team though, Lanzini’s potential value will inevitably suffer a significant decline.
So, West Ham fans, would you welcome back Payet this summer? Let us know by voting below…